THE CALVIN CYCLE
From Jay Hosler’s science comics introduction to Photosynthesis,
Gimme Some Sugar
John Oliver’s takedown skills are pretty incred.
Dr. Oz is a pseudoscientific snake oil salesman that should be banned from TV.
John Oliver, however, is a genius.
For a moment, imagine a world where people have enough experience with scientific thinking that they don’t need the help of a cable news comedian to save themselves from brain-falling-out-of-head syndrome. That’s a beautiful world. I want to live in that world. But if that world can’t exist, I’m glad that people like John Oliver and the countless scientists and science writers out there working to put out the Good Word of science live in this one.
New data reveals that Germany broke a record at the start of June by generating half its energy from solar power, demonstrating the country’s impressive renewable energy capabilities.
Research from the Fraunhofer ISE research institute showed that German solar panels generated a record 24.24 GW of electricity between 1pm and 2pm on Friday, June 6th. And on Monday June 9th, a public holiday, solar power production peaked at 23.1 GW, which was 50.6 percent of total electricity demand.
Tobias Rothacher, an expert for renewable energies at Germany Trade & Invest, told The Local: “I think we could break a new record every two to three months now. We are installing more and more PVs [solar panels].”
Germany has had success with solar by encouraging citizens to install panels on their roof tops, rather than focussing on building large-scale solar farms. In fact, 90 percent of Germany’s solar panels are on individuals’ roofs.
Good weather has also helped solar power production this year, which has increased 34 percent in the first part of 2014.
With the current rate of production, Germany will need to invest in more energy storage technology to keep up.
Doodling the Right Thing
With a few humble doodles, I think Google may have created the most widely-seen, and perhaps the most influential, science communication effort on Earth. Their series of Google search page tributes to female scientists (a few of which I’ve shared above) is a huge win for showcasing the efforts of women in science, which, unless you’ve been living under a very patriarchal rock for the past forever, you know is something the world needs very badly.
It might seem silly to be talking about a picture like this, but we’re dealing with the Times Square billboard of internet graphics here. Every day, 730 million people visit Google.com a total of 17 billion times. Billion. Granted, not all of them see the same Google doodle, as only a small set of them are “global” doodles, but even if just 10% of daily unique visitors see a particular doodle, and just 10% of those people take the time to figure out who/what they’re looking at, that means 7+ million people a day (and that doesn’t even take into account repeated visits). I suspect that’s a low estimate, too, although I base that on nothing except my own optimism.
For comparison, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey drew just over 3 million U.S. viewers for its final episode. I’ll concede that’s not really a fair comparison, since Cosmos is a highly-produced, hour-long scripted TV series with very broad and lofty goals and a Google doodle is, well, a picture on the internet. The point I’m trying to make is not that Cosmos is less influential than a cartoon, because that’s ridiculous (although I must admit the more I think about it, I really don’t know how ridiculous it is). My point is that a Google doodle about science reaches a metric f**kton of people.
I am having a hard time thinking of another single Internet Thing that has the potential to reach so many people in a single day. No meme-filled Facebook page or educational YouTube channel comes close, and I don’t suspect any traditional science news/media sites are even in the ballpark.
Google still has a long way to go to bring their doodle gender representation anywhere close to level. According to SPARK, only 17% of doodles between 2001-2013 were women (and 74% of them were white people). I can’t find the numbers, but on the bright side it seems like 2014 has showcased a high percentage of women in the doodles. In addition to monitoring women featured in doodles, the blog Speaking Up For Us keeps a running list of doodle-worthy women.Despite that remaining imbalance, I think this is an incredible effort on the part of Google, and we should demand even more doodles of underrepresented groups (both in science and beyond).
Can something so passive make any difference? To be honest, I don’t know, but I suspect that it does. When people only see one type of person recognized for accomplishing the Great Scientific Things of history, they consciously and subconsciously assume that only that type of person actually accomplishes Great Scientific Things. That is how underrepresented people stay underrepresented, which is the opposite thing we want to happen.
Google doodles aren’t going to cure cancer or send a human to Mars, but they just might help inspire the person who does. Not bad for a drawing.
How To Identify Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Crisis pregnancy centers, or pregnancy resource centers, disguise themselves as medical facilities, but usually have no licensed doctors, nurses or counselors. They often appear under “Abortion Alternatives,” and may have names similar to abortion clinics nearby in order to confuse patients into entering their buildings instead of the real clinics.
Once you enter a CPC, their mission is to prevent you from getting an abortion at any cost. They will use misleading language, delay tactics, emotional manipulation, intimidation, and outright lies to either persuade you against abortion or to make you miss your appointment. The worst part? It’s all completely legal and funded by federal dollars.
CPCs do their best to appear as legitimate abortion clinics, so how can you tell which is which? Here is a list of red flags for CPCs:
- The words “crisis” or “resource” appear in the center’s name
- Their ads use language like “Pregnant & Scared?”
- They offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds
- When asked if they provide abortions or contraception, they will not give a direct answer
- The waiting room has biased pamphlets, sometimes with graphic pictures labeled as abortions
- They attempt to make you feel guilty about considering abortion
- They offer baby items, such as diapers and formula
- They downplay the effectiveness of contraception and emphasize abstinence
- They emphasize the dangers of abortion (Fact: fewer than 0.3% of patients experience complications requiring hospitalization)
- They discuss the false connections between abortion and breast cancer, infertility, or mental illness, often referred to as post-abortion stress syndrome
- Regardless of how you talk about the pregnancy, they refer to “your baby,” the “preborn child,” “post-abortive women,” and say that you are “already a mother.”
A list of licensed abortion clinics in the United States can be found on Bébinn’s Find A Clinic.
Neil made us really great waffles the morning after prom. I LOVE WAFFLES.
How do I get Neil to make me waffles regardless of prom?
Can we all just appreciate the shirt that Neil is wearing? I see Jupiter…
NASA plans to colonize Mars
NASA may not be planning to put a human on Mars until the 2030s, but the agency’s top scientist said colonizing the planet is a key part of its agenda – as well as its search for extraterrestrial life.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, NASA’s chief scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan emphasized that the quest to find alien life is focused primarily on our own solar system, where potential targets include Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Titan. In order to most effectively survey Mars for signs of life, though, Stofan said putting humans on the ground, and establishing a presence there, is a big priority.
In response to a question about whether or not NASA plans to bring back astronauts that reach the Red Planet, Stofan said, “We would definitely plan on bringing them back. We like to talk about pioneering Mars rather than just exploring Mars, because once we get to Mars we will set up some sort of permanent presence.”
NASA has expressed such interest before, most recently proposing to send a small greenhouse to the planet in order to experiment with cultivating plant life – something that would be essential to establishing a permanent colony in the future.
Although Mars doesn’t currently seem to be a great habitat for existing life, Stofan argued it’s still possible things may be living beneath the surface – something that can only be explored effectively by humans, not robots.
“Humans can actually read a landscape, go through a lot of rocks – crack them open, throw them, pick up the next one,” she told the Guardian. “Rovers are great, they do amazing science, but it is a lot more tedious process – they go much less far than a human can cover in a day. Having humans on the surface is how I think we are going to be able to demonstrate totally conclusively that life did evolve on Mars.”
Currently, the American space agency is planning to put a human on Mars in 2035 – a plan that depends on the successful completion of a few different missions, as well as stable funding over the course of the next couple of decades. As RT reported earlier this month, a new study by the US National Research Council found that under NASA’s current budget trajectory, reaching the Red Planet would be unlikely.
“Absent a very fundamental change in the nation’s way of doing business, it is not realistic to believe that we can achieve the consensus goal of reaching Mars,” said Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and co-chair of the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Human Spaceflight.
Stofan downplayed budgetary concerns, however, saying the agency has received “extremely favorable budgets in the last few years” and that tight budgets have inspired innovation at NASA. She also noted that the agency’s asteroid mission – which involves capturing an asteroid and redirecting its orbit around the moon so that astronauts can land on it – is all intended to test technology that would be used on a future Mars mission.
Meanwhile, the contamination of either Earth or Mars remains “a huge concern.”
“First, of all you wouldn’t want to bring any weird microbes from Mars to the Earth that could potentially be harmful to people here,” she said. “In the future when we have Mars samples come back, they will go through an incredible procedure basically equivalent to an ebola level quarantine facility to make sure they are not going to contaminate Earth. Then there is contamination of Mars. We are looking for life on Mars so we don’t want to carry microbes with us, ‘discover them’ and declare victory.”
Looking elsewhere, the chief scientist added that a visit to Europa is “clearly our next step,” with Titan not far behind.
“Over the last few years we have started to formulate the next mission to [Jupiter’s moon] Europa – we know there is an ocean under that icy crust. There are plumes of water coming out of the cracks in the south polar region. There’s orange gunk all over the surface – what the heck is that stuff? … We have [also] flown the Cassini spacecraft through the geysers erupting off [Saturn’s moon] Enceladus – we know there are organics in those water plumes but we don’t know how complex those organics are.”
Just last week, NASA scientists unveiled a new plan that would allow the agency to send a quadcopter drone to Titan in order to search for life. The drone would be capable of flying over Titan’s landscape and seas, collect samples, and deliver the samples to a nuclear-powered “mothership” – either a larger lander or a balloon – where it can recharge its batteries for another flight. Researchers are continuing to move forward with the idea, but such a mission would also be decades away from becoming a reality. No launch would occur until the 2040s.